The Direction of Human Civility


By Steve Alm

Property of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

            In public discourse, it is imprudent to raise generalities habitually applied to members of demographic groups in order to differentiate them by means of making them less than the speaker.  We know this through experience and enlightenment.  We have come to learn not to attach demeaning behavior patterns to other people because of race, religion, age and sex.  We strive to become more tolerant in areas where public controversy over acceptability is in the open, such as issues of sexual preference and political beliefs.  We even bend over backwards in an attempt to understand those who exhibit behavior far outside the accepted norms of sanity such as snake charmers and people who form imbecilic football allegiances (those who don’t root for the Steelers). 

            The universal exception to this serendipitous principle is the fact that it is socially acceptable, even responsible, to discourse on end on the foibles of the male of the species.  Men are so undeniably weenies!   Take, for example, the well known maxim that men refuse to ask directions when traveling.  Is this an unfair example?  Perhaps.  A statement is not a generality if can be supported by sufficient evidence to be proven as factual.  Let’s take a look at history.


            Moses led the Israelites from several centuries of bondage in Egypt to freedom in Canaan.  He did so by convincing the Pharaoh to let his people go, parting the Red Sea, feeding his people when there was no food to be had and keeping his people together despite great hardship and fear.  Then he got everybody lost in the desert for 40 years.  It is only about 120 miles from the Nile River to the River Jordan.  Even with a whole bunch of people on foot, it shouldn’t take more than a few weeks to make the trip.  Can you imagine the reaction of Mrs. Moses (Zipporah)?  “Oh, Mr. Hero!  Mr. Pathfinder!  First you couldn’t do your own talking to the Pharaoh.  You had to get your little brother Aaron to do it for you.  Then you get us all lost in this miserable no man’s land.  When you were up on Mt. Sinai getting those 10 laws, why couldn’t you just ask directions to the land of milk and honey?  You got those tablets made of stone.  I think they must have been chipped from your head.”


            After reading about Moses’ experience, guessing about the exchange with Zipporah and following the caveats of experience rooted solidly in firmly held superstition, seafaring men banned women from shipboard travel.  Christopher Columbus braved the edge of the world and opened the Western Hemisphere to European exploration and thus, has been credited as discovering the Americas.  But it wasn’t the Indies he was sent to visit, was it?  Having to face Queen Isabella, who financed the journey, he almost certainly heard something like, “What’s the matter with you?  The Indies are the other way.  When you left port and didn’t turn East, I tried shouting and pointing, but did you pay attention?  No!  Not the great discoverer!  You could have lost everything over the edge.  Didn’t we learn anything about where the Indies are from Marco Polo?”


            Ferdinand Magellan sailed from Portugal and arrived in the Pacific Ocean by way of South America.  He repeatedly tried to round Cape Horn where the two great oceans, the Atlantic and the Pacific, meet not far from Antarctica.  When the storms and colliding seas proved impassable, he found a narrow strait a little to the north and made it through to the other side.  When he got back home, his better half (Beatriz) would have been in a tizzy.  “Where have you been?  I’ve been cooped up alone with the children and your family all this time while you were cluelessly sailing that little boat to the South Pole.  And why?  Just to have a strait named after you?  Why couldn’t you just ask someone about how to find the Panama Canal, the short way that everybody else takes?”


            There is no conclusion.  This will go on until the end of time.  There is no need to recount the misadventures of Hannibal, Balboa, Cortez, Ponce de Leon, Kit Carson, Lewis and Clark or my cousin George who ended up in Ohio while trying to get to Philadelphia from Pittsburgh.  In this age of courteous acceptance and political correctness, men are fair game.  Luckily, we may be spared by failing to find our way to the hunting grounds.  Don’t ask.

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Steve Alm